An Outbound Degree

We find out why more students are looking for a higher education abroad rather than at home…

In 2011, The Ministry of Education and Training published a startling report. Over 100,000 Vietnamese students studied abroad in nearly 50 countries – and 90 percent of them paid for it themselves. In the last 10 years, increasing numbers of students have been hitting the books in order to leave their home country to pursue an education abroad. In addition to the myriad English language centers that now dot Vietnamese cities, institutes like Yola and Summa, which provide preparatory courses like the SAT (a standardized test for college admissions in the United States), TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), and IELTS (International English LanguageTesting System), have become common sights as well. What is it about a foreign education that draws students to such unfamiliar lands?

“Many students who travel to the US, UK, and Canada are doing so to reconnect with family members they have there,” says Pham Thai Pham, a counselor from GET (Global Education Consulting & Training). “Some students don’t plan on returning to Vietnam when they study abroad, but the ones that do expect to find a good job with a high paying salary.”

Pham counsels students who want to study abroad, and helps them find the destination that best serves their needs. Companies would rather hire someone who has had professional experience abroad, which saves them the trouble of having to train candidates from the ground up. In general, Vietnamese students receive a controlled theoretical education – with little to no practice involved – which puts them at a disadvantage when competing with foreign-trained peers.

“Students who study abroad often receive both a practical and theoretical education,” she further explains. “That means schools might provide business students with opportunities to intern with a local business while they study theory in the classroom.”

Money & Visa Woes

While some students are thinking of emigration and future employment, others are looking to temporarily broaden their cultural horizons during their time abroad. Thu Nguyen, a student at an international high school, views life in the United States with an open, yet realistic mindset: “I want to experience life in another country, meet diverse groups of people, and experience something new on my own. of course, there will be new challenges to face, like adjusting to the climate, dealing with differences in language and culture, and getting used to things like the transportation system, but I hope to enjoy my experience and return to Vietnam to get a good job with a high salary.”

In order to prepare for her fast-approaching departure date, Thu is studying for the SAT and TOEFL.

Vinh Le Tuan, an architect and prospective student, was denied a visa because his lawyer had misinformed him about a small technicality in a single financial document. He spent the next three months toiling with paperwork and traveling to and from Hanoi, only to have his next interviewer at the US consulate issue him a visa without going over his paperwork. Many find the path to a visa similarly bewildering and arbitrary.

In 2011, almost 15,000 Vietnamese students traveled to America to pursue their education. The popularity of the United States is second only to Australia, which attracted some 25,000 students last year. The visa process dissuades many academic hopefuls from studying in the US; not only are they required to provide an acceptance letter from their university before they are granted a visa, but they also have to prove that they can pay for their time there.

This means that they have to provide their family’s financial records, showing that they have adequate funds to pay for tuition and life in the States. But that’s often easier said than done.

Demonstrating financial records is often tricky for Vietnamese students, because their parents may not always have the salary to match, and many times paperwork is obscure or simply non-existent. Families can seek out agencies to provide them with financial documents to satisfy the US consulate, but oftentimes students are simply advised to seek out education programs in other countries.

“We advise some students to study in Malaysia, Singapore, and the UK because they can get a visa easier than in the United States,” says Pham.

Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore also have universities that have partnerships with accredited universities in Europe and the US. Viet Nguyen is currently an urban planner in Ho Chi Minh City, but he has his sights set on getting an MBA in France. He’s pursuing a double degree in business: for the first year, he will study at CFVG, the French-Vietnamese Center for Management Education, and then plans to study at ESPC in Paris, one of the best business schools in France. Viet expects to use top notch facilities in France, and to form relationships with some of the best professors in the world before returning to Vietnam.

“Students who study in foreign countries are also more likely to be hired by foreign companies who have branches in Vietnam,” he says. “Foreign institutions have a more pragmatic approach to education. Students who have the means to study abroad should do so – it’s in their best interest.”

Image by NAM QUAN

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